Vietnam's dog meat culture clashes with modern tastes

Vietnamese officials in Hanoi have asked residents to stop eating dog meat, citing health and public image concerns. Vendors and enthusiasts now fear a nationwide ban on what they consider to be a traditional delicacy.

Hoang has been eating dog meat since he was young. He can't imagine there will be a time that he won't be eating it at least twice a month. However, Vietnamese officials announced in September that dog and cat meat should no longer be served in the inner districts of the capital city Hanoi because it's offensive to tourists and can spread diseases like rabies.

Asia | 15.08.2013

Read more: Illegal dog meat trade raises moral questions

Dog meat lovers and restaurant owners fear that the government will try to expand the ban and decide to officially forbid eating dog and cat meat entirely.

"I don't see how they can ban it. The demand is just too high," Hoang said at a restaurant in Vietnam's largest metropolis, Ho Chi Minh City.

In a small alley in Ho Chi Minh City, at least four restaurants serve dog meat, or "Thit cho." People gather around small tables to dine on the canine meat, complementing it with rice wine or beer. 

Hoang, who declined to give his full name, is sitting at a table with three good friends. "For us it's a tradition to eat dog meat. It's just as normal as eating seafood or chicken," he told DW.

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Audios and videos on the topic

Hundefleisch in Restaurant in Vietnam
05:39 mins.
Environment | 13.05.2015

Dog-eating decline

It's a point many Vietnamese people make. For them eating dog meat is no different than eating any other type of meat. Additionally, some Vietnamese believe that eating dog meat by the end of the month will help them to get rid of bad luck gathered in the weeks before. It's why these types of restaurants are always more crowded when the month comes to an end.

Demo gegen Dog-Meat-Festival

Slaughtered dogs for sale at an annual dog meat festival in Yulin, China

Tradition vs. international image

The Vietnamese government has a different view on things. Officials in Hanoi say that eating dog meat is damaging the reputation and image of the capital city. They also say that eating the meat could lead to a deadly rabies infection.

In Ho Chi Minh City, authorities are also taking a tougher stand. In September, the city's largest dog meat market was raided. According to Vietnamese state media, many vendors were fined and a large amount of raw dog meat was confiscated because it came from unknown sources. In Vietnam dogs are often stolen from pet lovers and then sold to restaurants.

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Mr. Chien, who didn't want to give his full name, has been selling dog meat for 10 years in Ho Chi Minh City. He said that pressure on him and his colleagues has grown in the past five years. He needs to be very transparent about where his dog meat comes from.

Read more: Sieren's China: Beef, pork, dog

"All the meat I'm selling comes from a qualified supplier," he told DW. "I have all the papers and licenses that are necessary. Society has been looking down on us, so I need to have my business as clean as possible," he added.

His restaurant is a popular establishment in the city. Each month he attracts about 1,000 customers, whom altogether eat about 100 dogs per month. "It's a business. If there's demand, then there is supply," Chien said.

An estimated 5 million dogs are consumed every year in Vietnam. Only China, where roughly 20 million dogs are consumed every year, eats more of "man's best friend."

Animal rights activists support a ban on dog meat. They have been campaigning for years to get the controversial dish removed from menus, pointing out that the slaughter of dogs and cats is brutal and that Vietnamese people often fear for the safety of their pets.

Mr. Chien is aware of the resistance to dog meat. He said he will stop selling it if the government issues a ban – but he doubts it will go that far. "I think it's a tradition that's been here too long to ban it entirely."

Society

The 'festival'

The Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, held every year in a small town in the largely rural and poor Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, sees thousands of canines butchered and eaten. The controversial event, which opened on June 21, is ostensibly held to mark the summer solstice.

Society

Culture or business?

Locals say that eating dog meat is no different from pork and is traditional during the summertime. But animal rights activists claim the festival has no cultural value and was merely created to boost business.

Society

Protests

Criticism is mounting against the mass slaughter of dogs. "We came to Yulin to tell people that dogs are our friends," says Yang Yuhua, an animal rights activist. "We cannot cruelly kill them." According to a poll, two thirds of Chinese demand an end to the dog meat festival. Here, animal rights activists protest against the Yulin festival in front of the Chinese embassy in Los Angeles.

Society

Saving dogs

Activists sometimes buy dogs to save them from the cooking pots. In 2015, dog lover Yang Xiaoyun traveled from her hometown, Tianjin, in northern China to Yulin and spent about 7,000 yuan (944 euros) buying up 100 dogs at a market to save them. Here, dogs purchased by activists to rescue them from dog meat dealers, are kept in a temporary shelter.

Society

Legal

In 2015, the Yulin government distanced itself from the festival and announced new restrictions. Traders would no longer be permitted to slaughter dogs in public, place carcasses on display or serve meals outdoors, it said. But there is no law against eating dog meat in China. Here, vendors sell dog meat at a market.

Society

Millions

As many as 10 million dogs are believed to be killed for their meat annually in China, with up to 10,000 killed for the Yulin festival, according to the Washington-based Humane Society. While much of the meat comes through legitimate farms, many dog slaughterhouses are run privately and secretively to avoid scrutiny by food-safety inspectors.

Society

'The festival will go on'

Li Yongwei, a Yulin resident, told the AFP news agency that dog was the same as any other meat. "You shouldn't force people to make choices they don't want to make, the way you wouldn't force someone to be a Christian or a Buddhist or a Muslim," he said. "The festival will go on. Young people, old people, even babies are all eating dog meat. It's tradition," said another resident.

Society

Popular across Asia

Dog meat remains a popular dish in other Asian countries such as Vietnam where it is considered to be an aphrodisiac. Over the past few years, an illegal dog meat trade has flourished across Asia worth millions of dollars, which critics say is unnecessarily cruel and carries a rising risk to public health. According to estimates, 30 million dogs are eaten every year across Asia.